Reflections on Marine Corps Base Quantico
In many ways we are the product of our childhood and our environment. My parents were of “the greatest generation,” and were much older when I was born. My father, a veteran of the Army Air Corps, was almost 50. What he lacked in his ability to tell bedtime stories,
he more than made up with a love of history and his habit of telling me “war stories.” It was from him that I first heard of Normandy, Bastogne, Anzio, Monte Casino and El Alamein. It was also from him that I first heard, as a little girl, of the fall of the Philippines and Corregidor, the Bataan Death March, Wake Island, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima. That early interest in military history grew into a passion for both the United States Marine Corps and the British Royal Marines.
Over the past twelve years I have had the great fortune of working in the field of Marine Corps history. I have been a book contractor, a research historian for the National Museum of the Marine Corps project, Assistant Ordnance Curator at the NMMC, and a historian with History Division, Marine Corps. I have been author, editor and speaker. Several weeks ago I was at the Globe and Laurel in Triangle, VA, having afternoon cocktails with a friend who happens to work for the Marine Corps Association. The conversation turned to social media and how groups like the MCA could best utilize them. My companion, an old and very dear friend, asked if I thought it was a worthwhile effort and what I, as a Marine Corps historian, would write about given the opportunity. I was off and running, ideas pouring forth…significant dates in Marine Corps history, significant individuals, or those who simply have a fascinating story but who have been largely forgotten by history. I talked of campaigns, or aspects of a campaign, of equipment, or simply an idea. And then he said, “So, are you in? We’d love for you to blog for us.” Considering I had spent probably 45 minutes just tossing out ideas and getting more and more excited at the prospect, how on earth could I refuse? I was definitely “in.”
Over the course of the past few weeks I have pondered what to address in this inaugural blog, how to introduce myself, how to convey the love that I have for the United States Marine Corps. Every day, I take a walk during lunch. Last week I was taking photos of Marine Corps University to share with a very dear friend, a retired British Royal Marine. I looked at the buildings I passed: Edson Hall, named for Major General Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson, who commanded the legendary 1st Raider Battalion, and who was awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle for Guadalcanal; Ellis Hall, named for Lieutenant Colonel Earl H. “Pete” Ellis, the remarkable amphibious prophet, who by 1921 had predicted, with remarkable accuracy, how war with Japan would be prosecuted; Dunlap Hall, named for Colonel Robert H. Dunlap, veteran of Vera Cruz and Santo Domingo, who prepared an analysis of the British disaster at Gallipoli; and Breckinridge Hall, named for Lieutenant General James C. Breckinridge, a champion of the new sciences of amphibious warfare and close air support, who commanded Marine Corps Schools at Quantico.
Over the past several years I have climbed those worn steps of Breckinridge Hall. Every time I do, I experience a moment of introspection…an “I am Not worthy” moment. How many Marines climbed those stairs before me? Many of them were nothing less than Giants of the Corps. It is a sobering thought, but inspiring. It was here, on these very grounds that I walk, that the Marine Corps became what it is today.
Under the guidance of Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune, the Marine Corps slowly turned its collective attention toward the mission of amphibious assault. By 1931, during the commandancy of Major General Ben H. Fuller, a committee of three Marine majors and a naval officer were at work on a treatise entitled Marine Corps Landing Operations. Although unpublished, this was nothing less than the first American military text specifically devoted to modern amphibious warfare. Three years later, based upon that unpublished manuscript, the Tentative Manual for Landing Operations was completed at Marine Corps Schools. A year later, the accompanying Text for the Employment of Marine Corps Aviation was published, which stressed the importance of coordinating air power with ground attacks. The same year the Small Wars Manual was published, still required reading today. All of this unfolded on Marine Corps Base Quantico, and is the foundation of the Marine Corps today.
I was discussing these general ideas with a friend, Sergeant Michael Bustamante, who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. I had met Sgt Bustamante when he was one of the Marines assigned to the National Museum of the Marine Corps. He came to the museum with two combat tours under his belt, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. He had served with the storied 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, one of the oldest units in the Corps. We shared a very similar experience climbing those steps of Breckinridge Hall, walking past the buildings named after those who guided the Corps. He said he, too, felt as though he were walking in the footstep of giants.
It occurred to me that during his service with 3/6, he walked not in the footsteps of those Marines who served with that unit, in places like the Meuse-Argonne in World War 1, in Tientsin, China, and at Guadalcanal and Tarawa during World War II, but rather that he walked beside them, brothers in arms. Such is the way of Marine Corps history. Those Marines who serve today carry on the fine traditions and the history of those that came before them. Sgt Bustamante ended our conversation with a simple statement: “You only live once…you might as well live forever! Semper Fidelis!!”